Thursday, August 4, 2016

Pastor Pete and the Cat by Jane Robertson

I highly recommend this book.

Purr strings.

That summarizes the central tension of this wonderful, funny, and entertaining work. That strain constitutes much of the novel's draw, although that's way too simplistic.

Robertson displays all of the characteristics of great artistry. Those include a mastery of language, of story-telling with central and peripheral tensions, of faultless settings, and of vibrant characters. In this novel, which is about an insecure but sincere and loving Pastor Pete, who hates approaching strangers, and a very confident and valuable calico cat, Raggy, several subplots add both mystery and texture. Several different and delightful characters, both parishioners and prospects of real flesh and blood, interact with their own unique quirks and dialects, singing their own unique songs.

To mention a few there's the Johnstons, thinking that they need marital counseling because of Mamma Ida Mae and the parish secretary, Midge, irritating as a bug on your skin but lovingly. There's Marietta, the Pastor's wife, with her soulful eyes, Mrs. Mayhew, who sits on the front row of the chapel, and Stella Hauger, the TV broadcaster. Plus there's my favorite grump, Gaston Eugene Gabbert. Here's a part of Pastor Pete and Gaston's first few minutes meeting each other:

" . . . We'd love to have you come check out our church."
"Don't see the need. I don't imagine churches have gotten any better over the years."
"Does that mean you used to go to church, sir?"
"Well, everybody's mama and papa makes them go to church, now don't they?"
"I wish, sir." Pete scrabbled some dead leaves from underneath a cluster of bushes while he thought. He could feel sweat oozing down the small of his back. "There are some really nice people at our church, sir. And after the service we always have a coffee hour with goodies."
"What do you mean by goodies?"
"Oh, muffins and doughnuts. Fruit trays. A lot of different things."
"Ever have prune cake?"
"I'm not sure, sir. I usually get to the table after everything's gone." Would a bribe be inappropriate? Could he afford to care? "But I'm sure if you want prune cake, we could find somebody to make you one."

You want to laugh and to feel refreshed and happy, yet realize that life is complicated? Read this novel. I recommend it with all my vigor.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Asia episodes

Yesterday Asia --- a.k.a. Moochie --- had another episode.

She had an episode several months ago wherein she seized, experiencing a number of grand mal seizures followed eventually by an intense sickness which lasted around twenty-four hours as far as getting up and doing anything went and slowed her down significantly for a few days. I thought she was going to die. I began using a straw to fill her mouth with water. It was awful. I was so sad and worried.

Yesterday's episode, however, seemed different than. We walked a couple of times, once not so far, the other time a normal one. After the second one, I started cleaning around the house, vacuuming and whatnot. Asia was out and about the house, scared as always by the vacuum, trying to escape its sound and my actions, moving here and there throughout the house to avoid the sound and action of the machine. Even after I was through though, she seemed fine; she was up and about. However, about 12:30 PM, I found her in the hallway, her head twisted in a distorted way, her body awkwardly laying there. I tried to get her to get up, calling her name, telling her to come and get a treat. She wouldn't. She couldn't. She was immobilized. I never saw her seize. It was as if she had had a stroke or something.

I left Asia there for an hour or more, checking on her all the time. She could see me. When I moved my hand by her eyes she blinked. She was breathing okay. She just seemed so awkward, uncomfortable. I tried to move her so her head didn't look so twisted, her body so it wasn't so contorted. It didn't work. Eventually, I picked her up, took her into the bedroom where her dog pillow is and put her on it, trying to make her as comfortable as I could. She was licking her lips, as if she were thirsty. She wasn't seizing. She could see me, look at me with confusion in her eyes, worried. She licked her lips, and I went and got some water to see if she wanted to drink. She wouldn't. She couldn't.

She laid there for hours, me checking on her every few minutes. Over time, I saw some improvements. She began to be able to move around a bit, to seek a more comfortable position on her pillow, slowly, eventually getting back to her typical maneuvers, tucking her head between her mat and another one next to it, eventually lifting her legs awkwardly and leaning them against the wall so she was on her back. Then finally she got up, moving slowly, and eventually recovered.

Before long, she was ready to go out for another walk.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Politics in Religious Instruction

High Priests Group Leader
High Priests Group

I feel it is necessary to make a case for my actions Sunday, September 14, 2014 in High Priests Group. I've been contemplating whether I need to apologize or not, and I'm not to that place yet. Maybe I never will be. But maybe I will. In any event, I want to make my position clear for doing what I did. I'd love to hear contrasting positions.

I only attend High Priests Group every other week since I have a primary calling that I do with my daughter. (Those poor kids have to suffer the likes of me. [Sarcasm]) Of course, opening exercises for priesthood is held in the gymnasium and includes opening announcements, an opening prayer, an opening song, announcements by kids serving in the Aaronic priesthood, announcements by adults, etc., etc. Then, eventually, we go to the High Council Room to meet, presumably for instruction. Then we have some more announcements and whatnot before things get started as to learning. This often leaves very little time for a lesson.

Scott Hennessey was the instructor. I have nothing personally against Scott. He is my brother in the gospel; I do and shall do my best to love him. He has always, as far as I'm aware, supported me and my family. I will never forget how, when my son, Mike, left for his mission, Scott came to the airport to see him off. Plus, he's given some great lessons.

Brother Hennessey began his instruction on September 14 by trying to play an audio clip from Paul Harvey. He said it was, I think, from around 1965. He had difficulty getting the audio to play on his device but after some fussing around with various speakers he got it to work. I was at the very back of the room and heard it with clarity. It was from a broadcast by Paul Harvey, a famous newspaper columnist and a radio personality, and it is known by the title, "If I Were the Devil." Scott eventually played the clip through to its end and we all listened. At least, I did. I estimate that it took approximately eight or nine minutes to do all of this, set it up and play it. It took about three and a half to four minutes to play the audio presentation by Paul Harvey, who is now deceased, was not a Mormon, but who was a very conservative, right-wing expositor of politics and of society.

I graduated from high school in 1966. I was acquainted from youth on with both the writings and broadcasts of Paul Harvey. I enjoyed him very much --- his perfect broadcaster's voice, his timing in his delivery, his subjects --- as did my wife. In earlier years, conditioned pretty much by having very little knowledge and the company that I kept while growing up, I agreed with much of what Harvey said in his presentations. Then, with more education and after delving more into the world and its nuances and reading accounts counterpoint to Harvey's, I began taking issue with many of his positions. But overall, I enjoyed Harvey very much --- he was quite entertaining, if nothing else --- and he was a very able and capable human being, one in many respects to be admired.

Anyone can find a clip of the audio or the video of "If I Were the Devil" on the Internet.

After Scott played the audio and made a comment or two, I raised my hand and when he called upon me I challenged him. I objected to his selection of "If I Were the Devil" for the beginning of the lesson. My comment more or less tried to convey that to begin the lesson with an ultraconservative's exposition wherein he imagined himself as the devil didn't seem balanced or fair. Actually, I was also concerned with the amount of time it took in the little time left for a lesson. Truthfully, I don't remember the particular words of the verbal interchanges between us. One had to do with his observations about not being able to build religious statues or perform religious rites and whatnot on government properties. One of Scott's observations was that someone had recently been arrested for saying, "Bless you!" to someone on a government property. I challenged Scott by saying that in Mormonism we revere the U.S. Constitution as inspired by God, so we shouldn't complain when that Constitution requires a separation of religion and state. Truthfully, like probably everybody else in the classroom, I thought an arrest for saying "Bless you!" was over the top. But, if it was, our laws and judicial system would provide relief for the person being charged and, hopefully, the enforcer would stand corrected and change their attitude. (See, there is some optimism in me.)

My impression is that when I had interrupted Scott, which I clearly had, he didn't like it. He made it sound, at least to me, as if I did it to him all the time, and he didn't want to be bothered with my concerns or my tangents, no matter what. It was very evident that a number of men in the room during our exchanges back and forth agreed with Scott's position, because something occurred which I have never experienced in all of my life in attending priesthood meetings. He took me to task, verbally, and, as a consequence, a number of the brothers in the classroom, mostly at the very back of the room, applauded what he had said, thereby also joining him in chiding me. Well, not, perhaps, chiding me for being me, but getting after what I had said, for interrupting Scott and perhaps speaking in a higher tone of disagreement. They applauded and continued until Layton Smith, the Group Leader, mildly scolded them for doing so, saying, "Brethren" with that certain tone.

Thereafter I sat silent. Not much time remained. Scott more or less kept to the lesson manual after that, but continued harkening back to the Harvey presentation, as if he were some authority.

In "If I Were the Devil," Harvey takes the role of the adversary. In my estimation, that's never a good place to be or a role to assume, but it certainly was an interesting twist. Harvey intimates therein that America --- the United States --- was once a great nation but it has declined and is on the road to ruin. His argument, which was basically adopted by Scott and many of the subsequent commenters, is built upon sand and should be washed away. "If I Were a Devil" is an exposition by one who possesses a racist and, to a lesser extent, sexist mentality. My dictionary defines racism as the belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others. It includes discrimination or prejudice based on race. It defines sexism as discrimination based on gender, especially discrimination against women. A second definition includes attitudes, conditions, or behaviors that promote stereotyping of social roles based on gender. It is more of the former --- racist --- than the latter ---sexist, but both were/are present and problematic for me.

Common overt manifestations of racism and sexism occur when those in power prevent social interaction between members of different races; when they utilize race or sex to determine who can or cannot buy, sell, or rent real estate; when people utilize various methodologies to discriminate in public schools or higher education; when they deny free access to private, public, and commercial facilities based upon race or sex; when they commit acts of violence motivated by race or sex; and when they use race or sex as a criterion for hiring. In "If I Were the Devil" overt manifestations of racism and sexism aren't necessarily manifest. It does, however, demonstrate a more harmful and passive type of racism and sexism, one more hidden and difficult to detect and challenge.

Consider this analogy and I'll explain its significance. When the lifetime supervisor of a slaughterhouse dies and is eulogized before being buried, no one eulogizing mentions the savage killings, the brutal murder of hundreds of thousands or millions of innocent animals that he has overseen. That is not part of his eulogy; it's not of import. Why? Because those eaten animals are not considered as important as the people who ate them; they were something lesser, inferior. The people who ate them considered themselves superior.

Paul Harvey in the audio clip is like a person eulogizing the slaughterhouse supervisor, however, but on a much different scale. America, or the United States, as it was in the distant past, Harvey asserts, was certainly much better than what it is today and what it will be tomorrow given the deplorable direction we're going because of the devil's machinations. America is in decline. However, in the case of the slaughterhouse supervisor, we are dealing with slaughtered animals. On the other hand, in the case of the American past, to which Paul Harvey alludes, we're not talking about slaughtering animals to eat, but we're talking about the slaughter and deprivation of human beings. Given the historical record, only a racist would glorify the American past, while complaining about its descent into hell in 1965 or now.

When Europeans invaded the North American continent they ended up killing over 100 million indigenous people, either with weaponry that was more advanced than the indigenous peoples' was, or with biological weapons, like smallpox. Upon realization that the indigenous people had no immunity to smallpox, the royal families of Europe along with the churches of Europe, primarily the Catholic Church, didn't stop there immigration, which essentially was killing the indigenous people. In fact, they distributed blankets infected with the virus among them.

Harvey, as the devil --- his take, not mine --- overlooks entirely the fact that Americans historically enslaved Africans along with many of the indigenous peoples. In those early days, and subsequently, atrocities compounded themselves for well over 500 years. Even after the Civil War evils continued. In 1965 there was still blatant segregation in the U.S. It is an ugly, morbid history over against what we have now. Furthermore, in those early days women had few if any rights. They were property, they didn't couldn't vote, they could be bought and sold. Compare that with today and you'll find that things have improved. They have improved considerably.

For Paul Harvey in "If I Were a Devil" the indigenous and African Americans were of no consequence. Neither were the women and girls of American society, who through the years made many, many advances, which continue to the present time. In Harvey's mind and in the subject essay, they were like the animals in the slaughterhouse which were murdered, sliced up, and distributed to be consumed. Lesser than. Not important. Inferior. What's clear, however, is what's important to Paul Harvey, after a careful reading of his essay: materialism. He likes the advance of materialism.

Do we have problems here in the U.S.? Are some aspects of our lives as citizens of this country on the whole declining? Perhaps so. I didn't see any statistics given in the lesson. Do I think that's the case intuitively? Sometimes. However, I've learned that my intuitions often fail me.

Overall, my actions in this case stemmed from my frustrations with the notion that so much of the little time left to teach was turned over to an ultra-conservative, non-Mormon, journalist, who was, in my opinion, a racist and a sexist in the audio clip that Scott played to begin with, a contrasting point of view to the one I was trying to present. I received, however, that you-are-not-as-important as me (us) message.

I grew up a redheaded boy with freckles, the son of a non-member father and a jack Mormon mother. I tasted thereby from society the mildest form of discrimination, nothing comparable to what others have suffered. During most of my adult life, as a member of the church, my leanings have been to liberality rather than conservative. Again, in attending church services, including in High Priests Group and whatever else, I have experienced and do experience discrimination because of it. The primary teachings which guide my life, however feebly, are love of God with my whole heart, mind, and strength and loving my neighbors as myself.

Judge for yourself whether this makes my case. Please don't hesitate to let me know what you think. It won't be the first or last time I hear a contrary view. I like to hear from all sides of questions (although I don't put myself in the role of the devil). Wasn't it the Lord who said to ask, seek, and knock? Not for naught.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Faith versus obedience

I don't honor any god who just orders a father to kill an innocent child without giving a comprehensible rationale for its value that can be confirmed by conscience before expecting the act. A god who expects such blind obedience is a devil. And isn't a father who unquestioningly follows also on the dark side?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

I Think I'm Infected but Not in a Good Way

BLACKOUT by Robison Wells reminds me of this old joke.

There are two dyslexics working in a kitchen. One says, "Can you smell gas?" And the other says, "I can't even smell my own name." (Remember, it's just a witticism, a spoonerism, if you will. Not necessarily derogatory.)

BLACKOUT was an entertaining read, fast-paced, intriguing. I guess you could say engaging. I was engaged, then… Well, I think you'll like those characteristics. I haven't read its predecessor if there is one. But after reading it, I feel like one of those kitchen workers. Nonetheless, I don't have dyslexia. There just wasn't enough narrative explanation for my tastes. Maybe if there are successor volumes, I could be more satisfied. But that's speculative.

Perhaps I have the worldwide virus that's a premise to what happens in the novel. I finished the whole book, but I didn't learn sufficient information about that virus. Or about the motivation of both the mentioned and unmentioned antagonists in this work. There was not nearly enough knowledge and development for my tastes, other than the virus is totally weird, inexplicably so, and creative. One thing I did learn about the virus was the fact that it only infected youth --- teenagers --- and it made them super- or sub-human. Superpowers.

(So, because I'm old, I don't have "that" virus. Whew! Something's infected me, though. I hope it can be treated.)

In BLACKOUT the primary players on the dark side, who, of course, are all infected, include Alec, Laura, and Dan. And on the side of light --- after all, they're probably Saints, since they're from central Utah --- are Aubrey and Jack. Or, perhaps, that should be "on the light side" --- ha ha. At least, I think that's right, but recall that I might be infected (although not with "the" virus). The former trio serve as terrorists, utilizing their viral superpowers to wreak havoc. The nation's military ends up exploiting the later two heroes' superpowers to thwart the villains. These characters are all viewpoint characters, and they're not the only ones, as I recall. Character development suffered.

You see, this virus shows itself in varying ways, but never with the same symptoms in any two different individuals. It's unlike any other disease or virus known to mankind, at least in my experience. Or in my imagination. And its symptomatic manifestations are all over the place as far as superpowers or darkpowers for these teens go. The antagonists wreak havoc across the United States --- for what purpose is unclear --- and the protagonists are simply manipulated by their government without a satisfactory justification for my tastes in doing so.

Hence, as in all fantasy and/or pseudoscience fiction, such powers can be and are manipulated in a deus ex machina way. It's very, very convenient.

That's how I spell it.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Old man review…

Old man review. Read at your own risk.

As you get older, the illusion is that time goes by faster. The theory, I think, is that the segment that is passing --- the hour, day, or week --- is a smaller and smaller fraction of the hours, days, etc. that you have lived. Your time is being used up and you only have a smaller fraction of what you had. At the ripe old age of sixty-five, this dynamic has certainly kicked in for me.

Time seems to be passing by way too fast; I have too little of it left to assimilate everything that I need to or want to. I am like a computer you buy, utilize, fill up, and that eventually begins to be too full, inadequate in capacity and speed, freezing up, and crashing. Furthermore, keeping up with the pace of technology seems to have a similar dynamic: I can't keep up and at times I don't want to even try keeping up. Therefore, going into reading this book, SMARTER THAN YOU THINK: HOW TECHNOLOGY IS CHANGING OUR MINDS FOR THE BETTER, I thought that technology wasn't necessarily changing my mind for the better. I didn't have adequate time and, perhaps, the ability for it to do so. For example, I haven't adopted to cell phones and such e-devices as readily or as rapidly as many of my friends, neighbors and relatives, often to my detriment, but more often to my delight and my contemporaries' chagrin.

But I think Clive Thompson makes some astute observations and plausible explanations for why he believes technology changes our minds for the better. I, of course, enjoyed reading the various histories in the evolution of innovation that he tells about and about humankind's continuing reluctances through the years and now to accept change. I also enjoyed reading about new innovations, innovators, and conceptions of human intelligence, etc. What a delight! How overwhelming! I did enjoy the read, and as I perused and contemplated what I had read I did realize that I do incorporate innovation, even in old age, into my life to make things easier. For example, I'm utilizing voice dictation software in order to write this because it has become more and more painful and irritating to type things out because of arthritis.

I am not, however, convinced that we retain our learning longer than we used to. However, learning is much more accessible in our era than ever before and that is the dynamic that has been changing and seems to be continuing to change. I like it that I can have access to information now that I could never have access to so readily in earlier periods of my lifetime.

Some change, however, is quite scary. I think of the contemporary crises involving data collection by the NSA, for example. Doesn't it have a tendency to put into jeopardy all notions of privacy that we might have? Furthermore, without a clean and clear commitment of mind to the whole enterprise of technology, it is all for naught. People become addicted to mindlessness: playing perhaps entertaining games and watching and being stimulated by videos and whatnot in an addictive manner that doesn't necessarily improve the mind or the quality of living but wastes it away. So, the caveat is always it only works to better your mind if you apply yourself in a responsible way.

Thursday, August 1, 2013


For me, truth is a matter of the imagination, as Ursula Le Guin said, or rather as she imagined Genly Ai telling her that. (See the ~ 1976 Introduction to the rerelease of the 1969 award winning science fiction novel, THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS.)
Truth is not the imagination, but the presence of truth always includes the imagination. In LDS scripture, we learn that truth is what happened, what's happening, what will happen. I know (or I imagine) that when I consider what happened, I use my imagination. I doubt that any person is and different than me in that regard. When I consider what will happen, I also use my imagination. I hesitate to think anyone else doesn't do that, too, although, perhaps, I could imagine it. When I consider what is happening, like me typing this out right now, trying to make sense, to select a rational order of words, etc., there is no doubt that I call on my imagination to deliver it contemporaneously.
"What if" is an element of the imagination; it is a feature of existence. It is not ever-present; it comes and goes. We don't like it continually present and work to eliminate it.
Fear is at the core of our being; essential to our very survival. It is also at the core of religion, of the LDS canon, and of other doctrines far and wide. It is a catalyst to action and to analysis and change. We use our imaginations to deal with fear.
Was that the sound of the cat knocking the toaster off the counter, a shutter bumping in the breeze, or a prowler? If the sound is fearful enough, we respond automatically --- fight or flight kicks in --- without analysis. Examination of what happened then comes later, and we use our imaginations to relive and evaluate the experience, to make changes, adaptations, etc. for good or for bad.
There is a time and a place to doubt just as there is a time to eat and sleep.